Tuesday, March 26, 2019

If you’re just not a morning person, science says you may never be


By Brian Resnick
March 17, 2017


We all have a preferred, inborn time for sleeping. Science has validated the idea that there are "morning people," "evening people," and those in between. These are called chronotypes.


Research has been gaining insight on that question. It turns out our internal clocks are influenced by genes and are incredibly difficult to change. If you're just not a morning person, it's likely you'll never be, at least until the effects of aging kick in.

And what's more, if we try to live out of sync with these clocks, our health likely suffers. The mismatch between internal time and real-world time has been linked to heart disease, obesity, and depression.

This all amounts to a case — not an absolute case, but a compelling one nonetheless — that we should listen to our bodies and not the alarm clocks.


Most people — around 30 to 50 percent — fall right in the middle of the chronotype bell curve, sleeping between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am.

Another 40 percent are either slightly morning people or slightly evening people, off by an hour or so. 1

People like Sokolis are even more rare: Only around 0.2 percent — one out of 500 — of adults have a delayed sleep phase like Sokolis. (The condition is much more common among teens, whose clocks gradually shift earlier as they age.) A few more adults (1 percent) have advanced sleep phase syndrome and prefer to go to sleep around 8 pm, according to the American Sleep Association. Society tends to be more forgiving of them.


The most important thing to know about the circadian system is that it doesn't just control when we're sleepy. "Every neurotransmitter, hormone, and chemical in the body cycles with the daily rhythm," Philip Gehrman, a sleep researcher and clinician at the University of Pennsylvania, tells me. "It’s not just humans; even single-cell organisms follow a circadian rhythm. It really seems to be a fundamental property of life."


"Evening types on average get down to their lowest core body temperature later than normal," Leon Lack, who studies circadian rhythms at Flinders University in Australia, tells me in an email. "Their circadian system doesn’t start producing sleepiness until later or alertness until later." They also release cortisol, the stress hormone, later than average. Most people hit their peak alertness around 10 am. Evening-type people can hit theirs hours later.

Some extreme night owls gather on Reddit to discuss the unique challenges of being out of sync with the world.


The delayed sleep phase sufferers I spoke to all agreed: The one thing they wished for was greater tolerance of people like them.

"Sometimes one of the helpful things I do for people is give them permission to follow a late schedule," Gehrman says of his clinical practice. "Because there’s an attitude in our culture that there is something wrong with that."

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